Government can no longer ignore cattle polluting Victorian river systems
Monday, 16 April 2012
The Baillieu Government can no longer turn a blind eye to cattle fouling Victorian river systems after a health department report revealed cow faeces are contaminating waterways and posing unacceptable risks to human health, the Victorian National Parks Association has warned.
"Successive Victorian governments have failed to deal with the very serious environmental and health risks of cows polluting our rivers," Victorian National Parks Association spokesman Nick Roberts said today.
"This report demands urgent government action to protect humans from serious health risks and provide adequate resources to fence off waterways and protect river our river systems from polluting cattle faeces."
The report looked at the public health issues caused by cattle being given unfettered access to Victorian rivers upstream of drinking water off-take points.
It found that public health contamination risks from pollution of rivers from livestock were 'several orders of magnitude above tolerable levels...' .
In March this year the Baillieu Government re-issued 229 grazing licences for public land along the Murray River originally destined for protection. In 2009 the former Brumby government renewed almost 10,000 riparian grazing licences for rivers across Victoria.
"This new Department of Health report is a wake-up call to the Baillieu Government. Issuing licences that let cattle urinate and defecate in the same water we use for drinking and domestic uses is a third world approach river management," Mr Roberts said.
The report's key findings:
- The estimated risks to human health caused by uncontrolled stock access to waterways were many times above tolerable levels without adequate downstream water treatment being in place.
- The costs of disease outbreaks (tens of hundreds of millions of dollars) are overwhelmingly higher than the costs of prevention.
- Protecting waters sources for public health objectives may provide multiple additional environmental and economic benefits.
- The State Government has legal powers to deal with the problems identified in the report but 'In practice, such powers are not likely to be enforced...'.
- The Australian Drinking water Guidelines recommend managing water quality risks at source. Managing risks by keeping contamination out of source waters in the first place is considered to be inherently more reliable than attempting to remove contamination through fallible water treatment processes.
The Victorian National Parks Association has developed a five-point plan to address these issues. The plan was produced after countless earlier reports to government and the Department of Sustainability and Environment identified similar environmental and health risks.
The action plan can be downloaded from the VNPA website.
"This report clearly points out that it is far cheaper to fence stock away from our river systems than it is to deal with disease ourbreaks caused by faecal contamination of our waterways," Mr Roberts said.
"It's time for the Victorian Government to act on the advice of its own health department and phase out cattle grazing from public riverside land in Victoria and provide greater incentives for landholders to fence and exclude stock from waterways," Mr Roberts said.
Nick Roberts, Red Gum and River Rescue Project Coordinator - 0429 945 429.